By some accounts, Whiskeytown alumnus Ryan Adams has done well enough in the music business to amass a sizable fortune. But just in case you’re under the impression that playing in a rock band is a path to riches for everyone, check out the Facebook post that Whiskeytown drummer Skillet Gilmore put up yesterday, concerning his latest earnings for “Midway Park” (one of Whiskeytown’s best songs, and kickoff track to the 1996 full-length debut Faithless Street):
This is, alas, a common experience for musicians who have discovered that the internet has not exactly leveled the playing field financially (and I’m here to tell ya that the world of online music has some distressing similarities to what happens with books). But since Gilmore is married to another former Whiskeytown member, I couldn’t resist pointing out that at least he gets an extra share of last quarter’s “Midway Park” loot. Skillet being Skillet, his reply was, of course, priceless:
There’s a saying in the music business that goes something like this: If you’re not getting bootlegged, you’re not happening. So I guess it’s flattering, in a backhanded kind of way, to find “Losering” in places I’d rather not see it. Pretty much every time I take a spin through the worldwide web to see if my book has turned up anyplace new, I’ll find links to where it can be downloaded for free. Stolen, in other words; the work of pirates. Arrrrrr! No, I’m not going to link to any of them here because they’re easy enough to find and I’d rather you didn’t.
So yesterday, I happened onto one where “Losering” is being offered as a “Free eBook Download.” Between the picture of the cover, publisher’s summary and ISBN serial number, you’d figure this is authorized and legit if you didn’t know any better. It’s anything but. Because while the content (my book) is free, the Usenet account needed to download it is not. Nice setup, eh?
I forwarded the link along to University of Texas Press and heard back from rights manager Laura Young Bost, who spends a great deal of time battling this kind of piracy without much success, and it went the way these things usually do. Laura sent a take-down notice to the site’s operators, who proceeded to pass the buck. They refused to do anything because, Laura said, “the file is not hosted on their site; they only link to the illegal file.” Truly, plausible deniability is not confined to politics. Laura went on to write about the frustrations of seeing UT Press titles in places like this:
This is truly like Whack-a-mole; if we get ebooks taken down one place, they immediately pop up elsewhere. We actually found a couple of books in the past two weeks where pirates had hijacked legitimate websites (one was a carpet company), which went up and down, and they moved on to hijack other legitimate websites before we could even act. I am not trying to make light of this — it is piracy out and out. I wish I could tell you that we can successfully combat it, but unfortunately that is not the reality of the situation. My fondest wish is that everyone who downloads an illegal ebook gets a virus with it.
Amen to that sentiment. Yes, I know this is the modern age, and I’m familiar with all the arguments about how information “wants to be free,” everyone needs to grow up and join the 21st century and so on. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Not that I wrote this book expecting it would amount to any sort of windfall. Writing is like making music — don’t do either expecting it to be lucrative because the odds of significant payoff are about the same as winning the lottery.
Still, it’s a drag to see anonymous people brazenly offering up one’s work as bait for their download service, just cuz they can. David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker triggered a huge debate last year with this essay, which elegantly lays out the creator’s viewpoint from the musician’s side (Lowery also had some interesting things to say about the aftermath when I interviewed him back in January — see the last two paragraphs here). Or as Gillian Welch put it in a very prescient song back in 2001:
Everything is free now That’s what they say Everything I ever done Gotta give it away. Someone hit the big score They figured it out That we’re gonna do it anyway Even if it doesn’t pay.
No, it doesn’t really do you any good to speak up about these things. And yet I can’t keep my mouth shut. For reasons unknown, the aforementioned pirate site actually has a “comments” section. Even though I knew it would be an exercise in futility, I entered the rather pointed comment below. You’ll notice that it’s flagged as “awaiting moderation,” meaning it has yet to be posted where others can see it. But I’m sure they’ll be letting that one through any time now, right? Riiiiiiiiight.